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Crossed #4

Posted: Friday, March 27, 2009
By: Paul Brian McCoy

Garth Ennis
Jacen Burrows
Avatar Press
First off, a slight complaint. Why can't any Avatar books ship on schedule? And if they're not going to ship on schedule, why bother putting the order forms in the back of each issue listing when everything's supposed to be available? According to the back of this issue, March should have seen the release of Doktor Sleepless #15, Gravel #11, and No Hero #7, with Crossed #5 on the shelves in February. That puts us two issues behind on Gravel and No Hero, four issues behind on Doktor Sleepless, and three months or so behind on Crossed.

It's damn frustrating, because I love all these titles and can't wait for the next chapters.

Ahhhhhhh. That's better.

But really, if these books weren't so damn good, the wait wouldn't be that big a deal. But take Crossed, for example. Last issue, our heroes were morally compelled to commit a truly horrendous act. If you didn't read it, I'm not going to spoil it for you, but our two main characters relive it as this issue opens and feel a bit cut-off from the rest of the group because of it. Would it play a little better if the distance was shown, rather than talked about?

Yeah, it would. But the pace of the comic, and the situation that these people find themselves in, both contribute to a narrative style that emphasizes an intellectual detachment and emotional numbing. Honestly, the feelings of isolation that Cindy and Stan are discussing may be in their heads. And it may be the best thing they can make themselves believe if they want to get through this alive.

For those of you not in the know, Crossed is the story of a group of survivors making their way to Alaska. Survivors of what, you ask? Are you afraid of zombies? Well, these aren't zombies. They're much, much worse. Since Romero re-envisioned them in 1968, zombies really just want to eat you. They are mindless consumption and inevitable death.

The Crossed (so called because of the rash that spreads across the infected's face in the form of a cross) are hostile, bestial maliciousness. Actually, bestial might be a misleading term, since that implies an assumption about the nature of animals compared to the nature of humans. Essentially, everything cruel, hateful, and utterly vile and sadistic in a person is no longer submerged in the personality and instead becomes one's motivating force.

One of the Crossed will eat you, but the killing will be done in a way that somehow perversely entertains them. They're much more likely to rape you while mutilating you than just kill you. And if you don't die, you become one of them, ready to rape, murder, and destroy to your heart's content. They take pleasure in their brutality and they're starting to figure out more complex ways of entertaining and satisfying themselves.

This issue moves our heroes a little closer to their destination and it only costs them two lives. Three, if you count the new character who gets a faceful of Crossed spit and has to be put down before he starts killing everyone. Ennis also introduces us to three of the infected this issue, and it looks like they may become recurring characters. They are the leader, Horsecock, who's weapon of choice is, um, well, yes, that is a horse's penis he's beating people with; Stump, a blind, quadriplegic with excellent hearing; and Face, who's loincloth appears to be a dead man's face, the open mouth of which allows Face's testicles to dangle free. There's nothing subtle about the Crossed, let me tell you.

Jacen Burrows is turning in the best work of his career so far. There's a very Steve Dillon quality to his work, but with a little more looseness in his layouts. Not only are the characters believable and realistic, but the settings are richly detailed, which allows the action to be that much more effecting. But it's the level of graphic violence that really helps to make this story work. There are no limits to the atrocities that Ennis scripts, and Burrows is able to illustrate it in a way that makes you want to look away, but keeps your eyes pinned to the page.

We're not even halfway through this series yet (there are nine issues planned), and slowly but surely our main characters are starting to become more than just featureless victims. This might be a cause for complaint to some reviewers, but I think it adds to the realism of the narrative. Kelly (the blind girl) and Thomas (her boyfriend) are the most clearly developed, aside from Cindy and Stan. And the small, but touching, act of kindness by Cindy's son Patrick, is a nice counterpoint to the madness going on all around them. This is Ennis and Burrows working at the top of their game, crafting one of the most disturbed, and disturbing, horror stories in recent memory.



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